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Key Guidelines for Building Privacy-Friendly Apps

The discussion around digital rights is still ongoing, but while it is still not a guaranteed right, many users still greatly value their privacy. If you are looking to develop privacy-friendly applications, here are some design principles to keep in mind.

1. Restraint

While some amount of data collection may be necessary for your application to function, it’s important to make sure you are not collecting any more data than is strictly necessary. The less user data your application collects, the easier it’ll be to keep that data safe. And collecting as little data as possible also makes it easier to follow the other principles in this guide.

2. Choice

Letting users choose what amount of personal data they are willing to provide is a big part of what makes an application privacy-friendly. However, this can be tricky to implement since it’s important to design it in a way that the user is also likely to make a conscious choice. 

For example, the recent changes in EU regulations have forced sites to ask users whether or not they are ok with sites using cookies. However, since that permission request is often executed in the form of a pop-up that blocks access to the content, users have trained themselves to click “accept” as soon as they see those messages.

Instead of a popup or an upfront request, a more thoughtful approach is to request access to a piece of data whenever a user tries to use a feature that requires that data. Or adding a privacy settings menu with sliders that users can tweak at will after they use the application and decide whether or not they’ll be using it regularly.

Here is one of the points where having restraint is important. The less data your application needs, the easier it’ll be for the user to set their privacy options.

3. Safety

All the privacy options in the world will do little good if the application’s servers are hacked. Special attention should be given to cybersecurity and data safety protocols when putting together an application that is aimed at being privacy-friendly. Many open-source encryption options can also make protecting user data easier.

4. Communication

Part of making an application privacy-friendly involves not only giving users choices, but letting them know how the data will be used, and what will happen with it after it has been collected. This involves providing information on how the data will be stored, for how long, who will have access to it, and how anonymous that data is. Users may be more willing to provide data if they know for sure it will be anonymous and will only be used to help developers tweak issues with the application.

5. Transparency

It’s also important to be clear and transparent when making changes to the application, or any terms of service that can affect the user’s privacy. Changing privacy options without giving customers prior warning or a clear explanation of what is happening could lead to a loss of trust, or result in users providing more information than they originally intended to.

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